Reflections on Hilaire Belloc’s “The Jews” (1922) [Part Three of Three]

Part 1
Part 2

As Belloc moves into the second half of his book, I personally feel that the work becomes weaker. His characteristic style remains powerful, but it is in the second half of the book that Belloc’s attempt to come across as balanced goes too far. The sixth chapter examines “The Causes of Friction upon Our Side.” Here Belloc neglects to concede that the great mass of Europeans has never urged the Jews to settle among them, that they have never held them captive, and certainly never sought out conflict with them. As Martin Luther once so insightfully pointed out:

Now behold what a nice, thick, fat lie it is when they complain about being captives among us. … [W]e do not know to this day which Devil brought them into our country. We did not fetch them from Jerusalem! On top of that, no-one is holding them now. Land and highways are open to them; they may move to their country whenever they wish to do so.

This is a fundamental issue in the history of Jewish-European relations that Belloc fails to recognize. Purposeful or not, the presence of a powerful but separate foreign, political entity exerting influence to its own ends in the elite strata of a given society amounts to one thing and one thing only: colonialism. In such a scenario, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with the colonized. Jews have remained in European society out of choice and with purpose and goals; not out of captivity. There are no passive partners. We are not locked into a fateful and unceasing struggle with all exits blocked. But instead Belloc strains to keep a balance which loses touch with the reality of the situation. He argues that “it is certain that we play a part ourselves in this quarrel between us and the Jews (124).” While certain actions on our part may escalate tensions, I would argue you that no fully accurate assessment of the situation can be made without having as a foundation an acknowledgement of the scenario I have just outlined.

This aside, Belloc has some insightful comments on how the European peoples deal with Jews. He argues that only two types of people show perfect honesty in their dealings with Jews: “the completely ignorant dupe who can hardly tell a Jew when he sees one and who accepts as a reality the old fiction of there being no difference except a different of religion,” and “the person called an ‘anti-Semite’ (126).” Both these types are rare, says Belloc. The majority of men “are grossly disingenuous in all their dealings with the Jews (127).” In this camp Belloc would place the likes of John Derbyshire, who on the one hand concedes and shows awareness that Jews as a group hold incredible levels of influence and power within his own profession, but who levels heavy criticism against those who dare to speak explicitly on the subject. Belloc describes such activity as “the great fault of our side which corresponds to the fault of secrecy upon theirs (127).”

Both types inhibit the ultimate goal of achieving openness and honesty. Jews, of course, are aware of the disingenuous nature of much of the contact they have with non-Jews. Afraid that at any second that hidden awareness may be made explicit, his infamous sense of insecurity grows and he becomes ever more paranoid. His paranoia breeds further friction. Only with the dupe and the so-called “anti-Semite” do Jews think “At least I know where I am.” For this reason, Belloc argues, “in their heart of hearts the Jews are grateful to both (126).”

This may well be the case, but I’m not holding my breath for a thank you card from Abe Foxman. Belloc also astutely recognizes that the great vice of disingenuous dealings with the Jews is “particularly rife among the wealthy and middle classes,” being far less common among the working class and the poor (131).

Falsehood also extends to the historical record of the Jews among us. Belloc writes that “we throw the story of these relations, which are among the half-dozen leading factors in history, right into the background even when we do mention it (131).” The vast and omnipresent nature of this subject “is deliberately suppressed (132).”

There took place in Cyprus and in the Libyan cities under Hadrian a Jewish movement against the surrounding non-Jewish society far exceeding in violence the late wreckage of Russia, which to-day fills all our thoughts. The massacres were wholesale and so were the reprisals. The Jews killed a quarter of a million of the people of Cyprus alone, and the Roman authorities answered with a repression which was a pitiless war. One might pile up instances indefinitely. The point is, that the average educated man has never been allowed to hear of them (132).

These epoch-defining events, unless they can be adapted in some fashion to clearly show the Jew as victim, are relegated to mere footnotes or insignificant details in the vast catalogues of our history. The same falsehood then extends into our contemporary record in the media reports, produced by knowing non-Jews, which insist on describing Jonathan Pollard as an American, or which portray the activities of the ADL or SPLC as in any way consistent with “American” values.

Belloc pours scorn on this falsehood not only because it “corrodes the souls of those who indulge in it (134),” but also because it “produces in the Jew a false sense of security and a completely distorted phantasm of the way in which he is really received in our society (134).” The more this falsehood is pursued, “the more the surprise which follows upon its discovery and the more legitimate the bitterness and hatred which that surprise occasions in those of whom we are the hosts (134).”

This is a good point. Studying Jewish reactions to the rising tide of inter-ethnic friction in Central Europe at the start of the twentieth century, one is indeed struck by the “profound shock, the utter disbelief, among the Jews.”[1]

Aside from falsehood on our part, Belloc also condemns the “unintelligence of our dealing with the Jews (134).” We stand at a particular disadvantage because “their dealings with us are always intelligent. They know what they are driving at in those relations, though they often misunderstand the material with which they deal (135).”

This unintelligence manifested in a number of ways in Belloc’s lifetime in the form of inept defenses of the Jews. He particular loathed the masking of Jewish immigration under the title of “the alien question,” or “Russian immigration.” He also castigated authors who, having been scolded for including less than positive Jewish characters in their novels, rushed to put “imaginary Jew heroes in their books.” Using the example of Dickens and the Fagin of Oliver Twist, and later his Riah of Our Mutual Friend, Belloc writes:

He disliked Jews instinctively; when he wrote of a Jew according to his inclination he made him out a criminal. Hearing that he must make amends for this action, he introduced a Jew who is like nothing on earth — a sort of compound of an Arab Sheik and a Family Bible picture from the Old Testament, and the whole embroidered on an utterly non-Jewish — a purely English character (136).

This unintelligence can generally be summed up in the idea that we too readily read ourselves into others, becoming shocked and acting stupidly when we discover otherwise. Rather “we ought to take it for granted that the Jew is nomadic, international, and spread all over the world (137).” We need to become attuned to the reality that “the Jew feels among us, only with far greater intensity, what we feel when we are in a foreign country — a sense of exile, a sense of irritation against alien things, merely because they are alien; a great desire for companionship and for understanding, yet a great indifference to the fate of those among whom he finds himself; an added attachment, no, indeed, to his territorial home, for he has none, but to his nation (138).” The modern reader can accept such a thesis, though obviously with the acknowledgment that a steady loyalty to the Israeli state has now been woven into the mentality of the Diaspora Jew.

With the close of this chapter, the book moves toward progressively shorter sections on ‘The anti-Semite,’ ‘Bolshevism,’ ‘The Position in the World as a Whole,’ ‘Zionism,’ and some concluding remarks. Belloc’s chapter on ‘The anti-Semite’ is particularly weak, based as it is on the assumption that there is in fact a sizeable portion of men who “hate Jews in themselves (147).” Belloc subscribes to the Jewish notion that the motives of those they label ‘anti-Semites’ are not related to a “hatred of concealment, falsehood, hypocrisy, corruption and all the other incidental evils of the false position. These things, indeed, irritate him, but they are not his leading motive. His leading motive is a hatred of the Jewish people (148).”

The bankruptcy of Belloc’s adoption of such weak analysis is nowhere more evident than in the reception of his book, and the manner in which history has recorded him and his works. For, despite what he may have thought, his focus on attempting to achieve an extreme level of balance and a focus on those “evils of the false position,” did not prevent him from being labelled an “anti-Semite” in his own lifetime and in mainstream history since his death.[2]  This is perhaps the greatest condemnation of his theories on the “anti-Semite,” and I will offer no further comment on the subject other than to remark that an “anti-Semite” has been, and always will be, any individual deemed by Jewry to be in opposition to Jewish interests.

Belloc’s chapter on Bolshevism has been superseded in more recent decades by more insightful works on the Russian catastrophe. It remains, however, a coherent and concise contribution to honest discussion of Jewish involvement in those events. Belloc describes the rise of Bolshevism as “a field in which we can study the evil effect of secrecy, and one in which we can analyse all the various forces which tend to bring Israel into such ceaseless conflict with the society around it (167).” His general theory of the Bolshevik explosion can be summed up in his description of the destruction of old Russian society as “an act of racial revenge (169).”

In his thoughts on “The Position in the World as a Whole,” Belloc points out that “the Jew has collectively a power today, in the white world, altogether excessive. It is not only an excessive power, it is inevitably a corporate power and, therefore, a semi-organized power (191).” This power has been acquired

out of all proportion to his numbers, out of all proportion to his ability; certainly out of proportion to any right of his to interfere in our affairs. It was a Jew who produced the divorce laws in France, the Jew who nourished anti-clericalism in that country and also in Italy; the Jew who called in the forces of Occidental nations to protect his compatriots in the East, and the Jew whose spirit has so largely permeated the Universities and the Press(199).

Belloc observed that the “regular and organized Jewish emigration” to the United States was having an effect. He noted “the growth of the financial monopoly and of monopolies in particular trades (202).” He noted a corresponding “clamour for toleration in the form of ‘neutralizing’ religious teaching in schools; there was the appearance of the Jewish revolutionary and of the Jewish critic in every tradition of Christian life (202).” The United States was ultimately left more prone because here “this Liberal tradition or convention, this conception that the Jew must be treated as a full citizen, was far stronger even than it was in the West of Europe. It was in the very soul of the Constitution, and, what is more important, in the very soul of the people (206).”

In terms of viable opponents to the growth of Jewish power and influence, Belloc posited only the Catholic Church. He argued that “the Catholic Church is the conservator of an age-long European tradition, and that tradition will never compromise with the fiction that a Jew can be other than a Jew. Wherever the Catholic Church has power, and in proportion to its power, the Jewish problem will be recognized to the full. … The Catholic Church will always maintain reality, including the reality of that sharp distinction between the Jew and his hosts (210).”

Here we encounter another of Belloc’s great and unfortunate errors. The Catholic Church was not invulnerable to Jewish influence. Nor, contrary to the opinion of those who wish to make a fetish of the link between the Church and our way of life, has it ever explicitly or implicitly been a protector of European traditions or peoples. The Catholic Church and Christianity in general are concerned solely with the fate of the “faith.” When Christianity came to Scandinavia, did it respect the existing culture? Did it accommodate those perfectly upstanding European folk who declined to kneel before the Nazarene? As I have written previously, it was Europe and Europeans that gave life and success to Christianity and not the other way around. It was we who took it to the four corners of the earth, on routes long since established by the pagan and the heathen. As the heart of Catholicism moves slowly south of the equator, we need only look at the shift of power and demography within Catholicism to see that it has, and always has had, a life distinct from our racial vitality.

Belloc returns to form in his chapter on Zionism, which is prophetic to say the least. With the creation of a Jewish state not yet a reality, he was left to ponder solely theoretical scenarios. He begins by asking “whether the Zionist experiment will tend to increase or to relax the strain created by the presence of the Jew in the midst of the non-Jewish world (231).” Pondering the creation of a Jewish state, Belloc was particularly interested in “the status of the Jew outside this territorial unit, which he had chosen to be much more than a symbol of his national unity — its actual seat and establishment (232).” He correctly predicted that the majority of Jews would continue to live outside such a state because they live “and desire to live the semi-nomadic life, the international life, which has becomes theirs by every tradition, and which one might now almost call instinctive to them (233).”

The new Zion, then, is to be “no more than a fixed rallying point, an established but small territorial nationhood (234).” Faced with the questioning of their political character, diaspora Jews would cling to insisting that he is “to be regarded as the full national in the nation in which he happens to be for a time (234).” In an astonishingly clear prediction of modern Jewry’s relationship with Israel, Belloc argues that “He shall in every respect be regarded, by a legal fiction, as identical with the community in which he happens to be settled for the moment, but at the same time he is to have some special relation with the Jewish State (234).” [Italics in original]. Belloc also heavily doubted that a Jewish state would rely upon its own military strength to ensure its security (241).

The conclusion of the book commences with an account of “Our Duty.” Here Belloc urges non-Jews to rid ourselves of the Liberal conventions and the falsehoods by which the Jewish problem is obscured. The author acknowledges that this is not easy. The greatest obstacle in this respect, he argues, is fear. There is first the European’s fear of breaking convention. He is secondly faced with fear of social and economic consequences. Belloc writes that “Men dread lest hostility to the Jewish Domination should bring them into the grip of some unknown but suspected world-wide power which can destroy the individual who shall be so rash as to challenge it (262).” There are “innumerable men who would express publicly on Jews what they continually express in private, but who conceal their feelings for fear that their salaries may be lost or their modest enterprises wrecked, their investments lowered, and their position ruined (263).” Jews, of course, are aware of this fear, and are adept at manipulating it. I’ve noted precisely this behavior in my recent article on Jewish Hollywood’s show of strength over Gaza.

However, Belloc correctly points out that the “fear strategy” will only work for so long, and that in the longer-term Jews are pursuing a very dangerous course of conduct. Based on a false sense of power and relative security, the use of fear only “dams up and enormously increases the latent force of anger against Jewish power. … It is like the piling up of a head of water when a river valley is obstructed, or like introducing of resistance into an electric current (263).” It is a “fierce irritant and accounts for the high pressure at which attack escapes when once it is loosened (263).”

Essentially, Belloc is questioning the rationality and wisdom of Jews who would seek the oppression of a grumbling peasantry, only to be later expelled en masse by a king; or who would shout down and intimidate a von Treitschke, only to be confronted later by a Hitler. In all cases, this elaborate game of “chicken” is taken too far.

The author argues that Jews too have a duty to perform in ceasing the ethnic conflict. They must end their “foolish and dangerous habit of secrecy and the irritating expression of superiority (271).” They may remain among us, but must form Jewish institutions that openly speak for Jewish interests, with no claims or pretensions to any other interests or values (273). They should permit open scrutiny of their interests if they wish to participate in the national, political and economic life of their host nation. Special courts of mixed character should be established to deal with conflicts and disputes between Jews and non-Jews, and these courts should be founded on acknowledgment of the mutual causes of friction between the two peoples. To ensure the endurance of this state of affairs, these developments should arise from a social movement before they are made law. It should not be imposed from above, but arise from the will of the people.

Are Belloc’s proposals practical? That remains to be seen. But The Jews, his general assessment of the longest ethnic conflict engaged in by the European peoples, is, almost a century after it was written, a prophetic, informative, concise and powerful summary of issues which retain a painful relevance. It deserves more recognition and deeper study. For my part, I have been inspired by Belloc’s work to produce a kind of companion book, which will offer greater detail, and some correctives to the original, in light of the century which has since passed.

End of Part 3 of 3.

[1] Y. M. Bodemann, Jews, Germans, Memory: Reconstructions of Jewish Life in Germany (University of Michigan Press, 1996), p.266.

[2] See for example R.S. Levy, Antisemitism: An Historical Encyclopaedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Vol. 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2005), p.65.

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